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#STEMStories: Tshireletso, Cyber Security Engineer, South Africa

With a high school background in mathematics and science, Tshireletso Kgabi’s interest in engineering occurred rather naturally; “I have always loved the challenge of being in a constant state of learning and critical thinking which develops an enquiring mind to solve technical and scientific problems. This developed my sense to understand and contribute to engineering issues,” Kgabi elaborates.

She completed her National Diploma in Electrical Engineering: Computer Systems at the Vaal University of Technology, where her interest in engineering increased as she became acquainted with tools and materials in the different labs. “The idea of programming a PLC, developing logic circuits, construction and testing of an electronic device… didn’t seem far-fetched after all,” she explains. She is currently in the final year of her Bachelor of Technology in Computer Systems degree at Tshwane University of Technology. She plans on studying further by taking on postgraduate research.

Kgabi also currently works as a Cyber Security Engineer, a big part of her work involves ensuring that the necessary security controls are in place to protect an organization’s confidential digital data, infrastructure, identity and access management. This includes planning, implementing, managing, monitoring and upgrading security measures for the protection of systems, networks, and data. “Day-to-day tasks and activities can vary for cyber security engineers, depending on where they work and the types of systems and networks, they’re responsible for protecting,” Kgabi explains.

Kgabi is excited by the challenges that the nature of her work as a cyber security engineer offers her, “because of the intimate connection between engineering and cyber security, I developed a spark to take on the challenge to protect systems of an organization against the countless and growing number of threats in cyberspace. Knowing how to build infrastructure and devices as an engineer is one thing but being able to understand how to build that infrastructure so it can better withstand attacks is absolutely critical,” she emphasises.

Kgabi was not only the first South African, but also the first Africa to become a CyberArk Delivery Engineer and the youngest technical cyber security lady in the PAM (Privileged and Access Management) domain. She has also been featured on Geekulcha Young Geeks as the first Cyber Security Engineer on their platform.

She describes her experience in the STEM field as tough at times, “I make sure I have the skills needed and tools, and also people skills. I have learned how crucial it is to build up my confidence… and believe in what I do. My experience has taught me to… take on challenges head on, Kgabi explains.

Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field is to keep up with the latest trends in their field; “being smart or clever alone isn’t enough to succeed; perseverance, resilience, consistency and mental strength goes a long way. Acquire as much knowledge as possible and apply it, not only to practical problems, but to your mind and everyday life to improve your skills and to remain consistent. Don’t sleep on yourself! Resilience and consistent will take you far!”

Kgabi definitely believes that Africa is a “land of opportunity”, but that the pace of change and technological advancements is slow. She points out that as our lives become more digitalised, cyber security becomes a critical issue; “cybercriminals have matured their tools to the point where they have developed capabilities that were once the reserve of nation states. And we need to keep up as cybersecurity skills are not in abundance in South Africa,” she emphasises.

She feels that it is vital to overcome the gender gap within STEM, “an undeniable gender gap within the STEM field and African women play a critical role in the field’s advancement as we see the world in a different aspect which has proven to be powerful,” Kgabi elaborates.

Her insight into achieving work-life balance is “to prioritize your time by taking on your most important tasks first and tackle the rest by priority. At the end day, take time to do a little reflection... Eat healthy and exercise to maintain a mind and body balance which is just as important…I reward myself for the progress I make which gives me an extra push to take on the next day.”

Read more about our Geeky Girl, Tshireletso Kgabi, in an insightful interview below which will put you at ease about the confidentiality of our online presence, knowing that our digital data is safe in her capable hands.

1. Describe what your work entails.

As a cyber-security engineer, a large part of my work takes place in fast-paced and complex environments. While there are some aspects of my work that are done daily, work as a cyber-security engineer is hardly a routine. You’ll never really know what your day will be like until it happens. There are times when I may be required to work odd hours and even overtime.

The biggest part of my work is ensuring that the necessary security controls are consistently in place to protect an organization’s confidential digital data, infrastructure and identity and access management. This will also include planning, implementing, managing, monitoring, and upgrading security measures for the protection of systems, networks, and data. All this aligned with security compliance and governance.

Day-to-day tasks and activities can vary for cyber security engineers, depending on where they work and the types of systems and networks, they’re responsible for protecting. So, a typical day might find me troubleshooting security and network problems, responding to system and network security incidents and testing and identifying system vulnerabilities as well as configuring security systems.

A threat or an attack will always take precedence over daily activities, but when your organization is not under attack, that pretty much sums up my day-to-day.

2. Describe your STEM journey.

My interest and involvement in engineering happened quite naturally with a high school background in maths and science. This inspired the curiosity of knowing how devices are build, how things are invented and how everything relates to each other systematically.

I have always loved the challenge of being in a constant state of learning and critical thinking which develops an enquiring mind to solve technical and scientific problems. This developed my sense to understand and contribute to engineering issues.

I completed my National Diploma in Electrical Engineering: Computer Systems at the Vaal University of Technology. During my time at VUT my interest in engineering got amplified as I got acquainted with all the tools and material in the different labs. The idea of programming a PLC, developing logic circuits, construction and testing of an electronic device and designing and implementing an industry related project didn’t seem far-fetched after all.

I then proceeded to do my Bachelor of Technology in Computer Systems at Tshwane University of Technology of which I am currently in my final year and will be furthering my post graduate studies after that.

3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

As an engineer you are in a constant state of critical thinking and when you pair that up with cyber security, you then understand the motivation and method of cyber attackers which enables to create better infrastructure to help prevent cybercrime. Because of the intimate connection between engineering and cyber security, I developed a spark to take on the challenge to protect systems of an organization against the countless and growing number of threats in cyberspace. Knowing how to build infrastructure and devices as an engineer is one thing but being able to understand how to build that infrastructure so it can better withstand attacks is absolutely critical. It also excites me that, as a woman in engineering and cyber security that I am contributing to closing the gender gap that exists within the fields and being among part of field with scarce resources and crucial importance with room for pioneering.

4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?

My experience has been tough at times as breaking through the STEM space as a young woman can be challenging. You need hard skills to get ahead in the industry. You need to know what you’re talking about when it comes to cyber security and IT structure. Having training is a definite! I make sure I have the skills needed and tools, and also people skills. I have learned how crucial it is to build up my confidence and stand up for yourself and believe in what I do. My experience has taught me to be thick-skinned and take on challenges head on.

Being a woman in a male dominated field isn't always easy. It takes courage and fortitude. - Amy Brachio

5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field?

Technology is always changing, so you have to keep up with the latest trends within in your field; keep constantly learning. Being smart or clever alone isn’t enough to succeed; perseverance, resilience, consistency and mental strength goes a long way. Acquire as much knowledge as possible and apply it, not only to practical problems, but to your mind and everyday life to improve your skills and to remain consistent. Don’t sleep on yourself! Resilience and consistent will take you far! And remember you inspire people who pretend like they don’t see you and your contributions in STEM as a woman are important.

6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?

Africa is definitely a “land of opportunity” the only thing we might lack is the fact that we are changing at a slow pace and our technological advancements can be a bit slow. We are in a state of change brought by powerful new technologies and our lives have become digitised and the matter of cyber security is gaining popularity as one of the critical issues of our time.

The scary reality is that over the past few years, cybercriminals have matured their tools to the point where they have developed capabilities that were once the reserve of nation states. And we need to keep up as cybersecurity skills are not in abundance in South Africa.

Africa has proven to bounce back from obstacles thrown at it and we are benefiting from having women in STEM who are able to approach these challenges and play a critical role in developing the continent. There is an undeniable gender gap within the STEM field and African women play a critical role in the field’s advancement as we see the world in a different aspect which has proven to be powerful.

7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?

Being the first in South Africa and Africa to become a CyberArk Delivery Engineer and the youngest technical cyber security lady in the PAM (Privileged and Access Management) domain. I also featured on Geekulcha Young Geeks as the first Cyber Security Engineer on their platform. The feature is on the below links:

https://geekulcha.com/young-geeks
https://blog.geekulcha.com/top15younggeeks-meet-tshireletso-kgabi/

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

It is important to prioritize your time by taking on your most important tasks first and tackle the rest by priority. At the end day, take time to do a little reflection. Ask yourself what worked for you today, what did not, what went wrong and how can you do things differently. Eat healthy and exercise to maintain a mind and body balance which is just as important. The moment you feel mentally worn out and tired, your personal and work life goes off balance; mental health is also important. Take time for a break both physically and mentally; this helps you to recharge and keep in touch with family and friends. I reward myself for the progress I make which gives me an extra push to take on the next day.

9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?

I am inspired by my mother who has taught me that learning from the circumstances of your decisions is important for your growth. She has always stressed to me the importance of having a relationship with God and having a strong support structure.
Her diversity within the fields she has worked in such as STEM, agriculture, chemistry and environmental science and being a natural scientist, professor and UNESCO chair has inspired me to push myself all the way. And made me realize that I capable of doing what I set my mind to and to realize my ability to be diverse and achieve my maximum potential.

10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tshireletso-kgabi-8ab311123/
Twitter Handle: @Tshire_MissTee

 

Tshireletso Kgabi interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd